Israeli officials have reportedly asked the US Congress for $300 million for two missile-defense programs, in addition to over $3 billion the US gives Israel annually.
The request, first reported by Bloomberg, comes at a time of heightened political tensions between Washington and Jerusalem ahead of a controversial visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu which will see him address Congress on a looming nuclear deal with Iran, despite anger by Democrats and the White House for failure to coordinate the event, orchestrated by the Republican leadership.
The tensions could explain why the fund's request was aimed at the Congress and not the administration itself. According to Bloomberg, the request for an additional $317 million is in addition to the $158 million the Pentagon proposed for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
The request would provide funds for producing David’s Sling and Arrow-3 – two anti-missile defense programs. Just days ago, the Defense Ministry announced that trials conducted over the past five months for the Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 missile interceptors were a failure.
Yair Ramati, head of Israel's missile defense organization in the Defense Minister, reportedly met with members of the congressional defense committees to lobby for the funds. According to Bloomberg, the US provides funds for Israel’s missile defenses - including Iron Dome - separately from the annual $3.1 billion in military aid, which allows Israel to buy arms through the State Department budget, and predominantly from US arms manufacturers.
Jewish Democrat's dillema
Jewish House Democrats personally offered Netanyahu a chance to lower the political temperature after he accepted a Republican invitation to speak to Congress next week on Iran - a less provocative, closed-door session.
Netanyahu turned them down, frustrating members of President Barack Obama's party who are caught between the White House and the Israeli leader.
Democrats face an unenviable choice on Tuesday: Attend the speech and listen to the Israeli leader criticize the president over his effort to negotiate a deal with Iran on its nuclear capability. Or skip it and face complaints that they failed to show solidarity with Netanyahu.
Democrats are largely resigned to the situation although still bitter about being caught in between. They're directing their wrath at House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who invited Netanyahu without consulting with the White House and State Department. And they're publicly disagreeing with the Israeli leader, too.
Rep. Sander Levin, R-Mich., called Boehner's invitation to Netanyahu "a strictly political ploy by the speaker to try to reinforce the Republicans' position on Israel and divide Democrats."
Netanyahu was "mistaken to agree to it," he said. "Speaker Boehner is playing politics with the critical issue of Israel's security. That's beyond pardon as far as I'm concerned."
The prime minister is speaking to Congress at the request of Republicans. His visit was coordinated without the Obama administration's knowledge, deepening tensions between two leaders who have never shown much affection for each other.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street, said Netanyahu was "crossing some lines that haven't been crossed before and is putting Israel into the partisan crossfire in a way it has not been before."
But the largest pro-Israel lobby in the US, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has tried to play down the partisanship.
"AIPAC welcomes the prime minister's speech to Congress and we believe that this is a very important address," spokesman Marshall Wittmann said. "We have been actively encouraging senators and representatives to attend and we have received an overwhelmingly positive response from both sides of the aisle."
Nearly a dozen Democratic lawmakers plan to sit out Netanyahu's speech, calling it an affront to the president.
Stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb has become a defining challenge for both Obama and Netanyahu, yet one they have approached far differently.
For Obama, getting Iran to verifiably prove it is not pursuing nuclear weapons would be a bright spot in a foreign policy arena in which numerous outcomes are uncertain and would validate his early political promise to negotiate with Iran without conditions.
Netanyahu considers unacceptable any deal with Iran that doesn't end its nuclear program entirely and opposes the diplomatic pursuit as one that minimizes what he considers an existential threat to Israel.
Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful and exists only to produce energy for civilian use.
US and Iranian officials reported progress in the latest talks on a deal that would freeze Tehran's nuclear program for 10 years, but allow it to slowly ramp up in the final years of the accord.
Obama has refused to meet Netanyahu during his visit, with the White House citing its policy of not meeting with foreign leaders soon before their elections. Vice President Joe Biden and Kerry will both be out of the country on trips announced only after Netanyahu accepted the GOP offer to speak on Capitol Hill.
The prime minister is scheduled to speak Monday at AIPAC's annual policy conference. The Obama administration will be represented at the event by UN Ambassador Samantha Power and national security adviser Susan Rice, who criticized Netanyahu's plans to address Congress as "destructive" to the US-Israeli relationship.
The Associated Press contributed to this report